Cleaning a hot water heater is as important as regular maintenance - and as suggested by the manufacturers. A clean water heater and the environment where it operates is the first thing you should consider when troubleshooting a hot water heater.
The DIY cleaning guide will help you find the answers on how to clean the gas water heater elements such as the flame arrestor, gas burner, venting system, thermocouple, and flame rod, how to use vinegar for cleaning, and more.
Regular maintenance with cleaning is especially important with the industry regulations, and implementation of the flammable vapor ignition resistance - FVIR, as the dirty environment can significantly affect and reduce water heater performance.
Some water heater parts must be cleaned, from simple dust cleaning to removing sediments from a water heater tank or elements.
Required tools like the vacuum cleaner, air compressor, wire brush, flashlight, wrench, grit paper, cloth, and soapy water are easy to find as they are part of the tools you are probably using daily or weekly.
Keep in mind that professional technicians should do most of the repairs and maintenance. Before calling for help, here are some measures you can take yourself:
Cleaning a hot water heater is vital, especially if there are spilled or leaked flammable liquids around. It is vital to have all the resources of flame, both main burner and pilot, extinguished.
One of the most important steps when cleaning a gas-powered hot water heater is to clean the combustion chamber and burner elements. The main burner, pilot burner, and flame arrestor must be cleaned at periodic intervals, not more than six months.
Cleaning the air intake screen is also critical because the air at the bottom of the water tank heater is drawn in for gas combustion. Keep this area free of dirt and dust and free from flammables so that the proper gas combustion won't be affected.
To clean the combustion chamber, burner assembly, and flame arrestor, remove the burner assembly first. This is how...
The flame arrestor, as part of the FVIR technology, keeps the flame inside the combustion chamber. It is imperative to keep the flame arrestor maintained, and space under the tank cleaned so that the air can be drawn for combustion.
If there is a problem with the insufficient combustion air, one of the solutions is to clean the flame arrestor. This is how:
If your water heater is equipped with the additional screen against the lint, dust, and oil, called LDO screen, located at the base of the heater, it has to be cleaned or washed regularly. This area is important as all of the combustion air enters the heater in there. Air intake screen cleaning will improve the performance and save you a costly service call.
If planning to connect a gas vent to a chimney, ensure that the chimney passageway is free of obstruction and clear, especially if the chimney was previously used with other appliances.
In the case of "direct venting," the water heater uses the air from outside directly using the sealed intake air pipe. To ensure clean combustion and a safe environment, the air must not be contaminated with chemicals and chemical vapor due to its highly corrosive nature. This is why direct vent models are recommended for beauty shops, laundries, and where the chemicals are used.
The main burner is subjected to carbon deposits, also known as sooting. If the burner is dirty or clogged, one of the solutions is to use soap and hot water to clean it. Simply follow the steps below:
Before installing a gas unit and connecting a vent to the chimney, ensure that the chimney passageway is clear and free of obstructions, especially if it was previously used for solid fuel appliances or fireplaces.
To learn about water heater thermocouple, what it is used for, and how to install/remove it... use this article.
Cleaning the thermocouple regularly will ensure proper element work. Due to the corrosion, soot, dirt, and grime buildup, the thermocouple cannot recognize the flame from the pilot and provide correct measurements (weak flame sensor current), resulting in a pilot outage, flame failure, and no water heating.
The solution for this problem is sanding the end of the thermocouple, a part that is in contact with the flame, using the ultra-fine steel wool or sandpaper and wiping it off with the cloth to remove the particles.
In the case of the tankless water heaters equipped with the flame rod or electrodes, use the same idea for cleaning.
Remember, turn the power off before performing any work.
Cleaning a water heater with vinegar is an easy job and recommended way to remove the sediments and limescale deposits from the tank.
The problem with the deposits is that they reduce the efficiency and make the unit run harder than it should do. If the regular flushing cannot remove the buildup and deposits, use vinegar, as it helps to break down and loosen the deposits into small pieces making it easier to flush them out.
You might need a few gallons of vinegar for this job. Basic flushing requires only the drain valve and garden hose, while here, you also need access to the tank and where to pour the vinegar.
The perfect spot is an opening where the anode rod is installed.
Other than that, the rest of the procedure is the same.
Here are the basics:
If you have a tankless water heater, buying a tankless water heater flushing kit that can be easily connected to isolation valves using a rubber hose is recommended. The kit usually comes with the utility pump, hose, and bucket, while vinegar or other cleansers must be purchased separately.
Isolation valves (sold on amazon.com) are great to have installed because they allow easy and fast service and maintenance, including tankless flushing.
More about tankless flushing here.
There are many problems associated with the dirty and clogged heater elements. The following issues will be easily prevented if cleaning hot water heater regularly.
Reasons: Pilot line, burner line or orifice is dirty and clogged.
Reasons: Air supply or flue pipes are obstructed, clogged burner.
If using an electric water heater, sediment buildup at the tank bottom may create annoying noises, and if left there, without cleaning, will cause permanent tank failure.
As the sediments can build up on the heating elements, for cleaning sediments from a water heater, elements follow the instructions to drain, flush and clean it, or if necessary, to replace it.
A self-cleaning water heater is a type of water heater that has a built-in system to reduce sediment buildup in the tank. Sediment buildup can occur over time as minerals and other debris settle to the bottom of the tank. This buildup can reduce the efficiency of the water heater, leading to higher energy bills and potentially shorter lifespan of the appliance.
Self-cleaning water heaters typically use a system of jets or other mechanisms to stir up the sediment and flush it out of the tank. This can happen automatically or may require periodic maintenance from the homeowner.
The benefits of a self-cleaning water heater include improved efficiency, longer lifespan, and reduced maintenance needs. However, they may be more expensive than traditional water heaters, so it's important to consider the upfront cost versus the long-term benefits.